Developing Employable Graduates: Assessment of Practical Skills in Undergraduate Medical Science Students


Author (s) Nia Davies, M, J Wallace


Employability of our graduates is a key outcome measure of higher education. In life sciences, a ‘skills gap’ has previously been identified in this discipline, reporting variability of practical and mathematical skills delivered by universities, leading to formalising skills acquisition and assessment in these areas. It is well established that students learn skills more effectively if they are assessed, establishing a strong foundation for further study, but written reports have traditionally been used as the method of assessment of practical experiments. ‘Skills for Medical Scientists’ is a 20-credit module in Applied Medical Sciences, where students are introduced to and assessed on laboratory technique during laboratory sessions. Feedback received demonstrated that students valued the practical laboratory experience, and felt learning outcomes were appropriate to skills development, leading to increased confidence in laboratory skills.


This session will outline how laboratory and practical skills development is taught to first year students in Applied Medical Sciences, demonstrating teaching excellence in the practical laboratory setting. This is an innovative approach, as traditionally these sessions are assessed by preparation of laboratory reports which do not adequately reflect practical skills in carrying out these tasks. Given the importance of employability in our graduates, specifically meeting the skills gap identified in graduates from life sciences, this is an area we are keen to address, developing not only employability skills for graduation but building confidence for the period of study here in Swansea University. This is continually being developed with our students in order to ensure the relevant skills are taught. This will be expanded in order to also deliver skills development to our Foundation year intake, due to start in September 2017, preparing them for an undergraduate degree in Applied Medical Sciences. This session will be of interest to anybody involved in teaching practical-based degrees or those taught in the laboratory or outside of the traditional lecture theatre. It will be of particular interest to those seeking accreditation from the Royal Society of Biology, who place great value on skills acquisition and development of undergraduates to prepare them for future employment. The session may also be of interest to colleagues wishing to expand the range of assessments offered in their programmes, exploring an alternative method of authentic assessment which may better reflect the learning outcomes of the module being delivered.

Key Words

Practical teaching, Authentic assessment, Employability,  Accreditation, Skills

Key Messages

  • Practical skills are of great value to employers in the life sciences but an area in which a gap has been identified in recent graduates. Skills for medical scientists aims to address this skills gap by teaching and developing laboratory and study skills to students in the first year of their degree programme.
  • An authentic assessment of practical skills can be used to demonstrate greater understanding and reflection of the skills being developed in a practical environment.
  • Feedback from students has indicated that skills development and assessment in this way is not only enjoyable, but also develops confidence in a laboratory setting, providing a foundation for subsequent study.

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